Max Blumenthal Unwittingly Exposes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Blind Spot on Antisemitism
Over the past few years, Max Blumenthal has made a name for himself as a dedicated anti-Zionist who fervently believes that the world’s only Jewish state is an abomination comparable to historical evils like Nazi Germany or contemporary monstrosities like the widely reviled terror group ISIS. Blumenthal’s critics — myself included — have long argued that his demonization of Israel echoes age-old antisemitic tropes that inevitably appeal to the far-right.
Needless to say, Blumenthal has always dismissed such criticism as malicious smears and he could usually count on support from some prominent left-wing voices. When he published his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel five years ago, one notable endorsement came from Professor Charles H. Manekin, who declared, “I would like to send a copy … to every Jew I know. … This is the sort of book that even if you want to diss it, you can’t dismiss it.” Why anyone would want to “diss” Blumenthal’s book is easy to understand once you know that neo-Nazis and assorted far-right bigots embraced Blumenthal’s relentless vilification of Israel as enthusiastically as some of his admirers on the left.
A recent incident serves as an excellent reminder that those who were eager to whitewash Blumenthal’s demonization of Israel as legitimate “criticism” should have known all along that they had willingly joined odious company. The incident is all the more noteworthy because Max Blumenthal found himself criticized by erstwhile defenders of his writings on Israel.
The criticism — which focused on Blumenthal’s recent work that has little do with Israel — came from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an American civil rights advocacy organization that maintains a Hatewatch blog, which “monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right.” On March 9, the SPLC published a Hatewatch post that examined “how fascists operationalize left-wing resentment.” When Blumenthal discovered that the post featured him as an example of a supposedly left-wing journalist who happily collaborates with media outlets and individuals promoting far-right and sometimes antisemitic views in line with Russian government interests, he quickly issued legal threats that prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to retract the post.
But Blumenthal’s successful bid to get the Hatewatch post retracted was arguably a spectacular own goal. The article’s author seemed to express what many felt when he noted on Twitter that it is “a pretty sorry state of affairs when a well-connected journalist threatens legal retaliation against a civil rights media outlet in order to suppress factual information they find inconvenient.” In the ensuing exchanges, several people also suggested that Blumenthal’s own conduct demonstrated that the Hatewatch post had made a valid case by exposing “Red-Brown alliances” and related arguments were later written up in an article.
While most of the people who criticized the SPLC’s swift surrender to Blumenthal’s legal threats focused on what they saw as a “bizarre effort to intimidate those who have reported on Russian propaganda and Russian propagandists,” anyone interested in the question of if there is a meeting of minds at the far-right and far-left fringes of the political spectrum would do well to take into account how Blumenthal’s work on Israel was received.
As I documented in considerable detail after the publication of Goliath, the far-right’s eager embrace of Blumenthal’s dedicated efforts to demonize Israel as uniquely evil was all but inevitable, and it arguably discredited the enthusiastic endorsements Blumenthal garnered from some on the left.
But in the context of the recent controversy about the SPLC’s retracted Hatewatch post, one striking example of the praise heaped on Blumenthal by his admirers on the far-right is particularly noteworthy.
In April 2014, Don Black, the founder of the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront, penned a post denouncing the SPLC as a “preeminent anti-White organization” that unfairly targeted his site because “Stormfront is the preeminent pro-White and anti-Zionist organization in the world.” Black objected in particular to the SPLC’s allegation that the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik — who murdered almost 80 people in July 2011 — had been an “active Stormfront user.” Rejecting any substantive association with Breivik, Black confidently declared, “Breivik’s murderous rampage was actually inspired by Zionist extremists. As Jewish peace advocate Max Blumenthal has documented, Breivik fell under the influence of Zionists Daniel Pipes, Pam Geller, and Robert Spencer. So he attacked a youth group that had demanded disinvestment from Israel.”
So the founder of the “preeminent pro-White and anti-Zionist organization in the world” considers Max Blumenthal a “Jewish peace advocate” whose writings are quite useful to Stormfront.
Black apparently based his claims on articles from 2011, when Blumenthal denounced some American writers cited in the 1,500 page “manifesto” of the Norwegian mass-murderer as “Right-Wing Hatemongers Who Inspired the Norway Killer.” Blumenthal also described Breivik as “a perfect product of the Axis of Islamophobia” and emphasized that the terrorist’s “manifesto” reflected the writings of America’s “more prominent right-wing Islamophobes … and many conservatives in general.” At the same time, Blumenthal claimed that Breivik and Europe’s far-right “turn for inspiration to Israel, the only ethnocracy in the world.”
It was a supremely ironic coincidence that just a day after Black cited the views of “Jewish peace advocate Max Blumenthal” in his defense, the SPLC published a post defending Blumenthal against exactly the kind of accusations he had leveled against others in the wake of Breivik’s murderous attacks.
Blumenthal himself drew attention to this SPLC post when he gleefully pointed out on Twitter that the Hatewatch post he objected to included “an insane smear … that the SPLC *itself debunked* in 2014.” Ignoring the fact that the same kind of “insane smear” was first promoted by Blumenthal himself and then picked up by Stormfront’s Don Black, the SPLC rushed to defend Blumenthal after it emerged that the far-right perpetrator of two deadly attacks on Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kansas was an admirer of Blumenthal’s work. When Blumenthal thus found himself at the receiving end of his own “insane smear” tactics, the SPLC issued a firm denunciation of attempts to pin “the blame on a single liberal journalist, Max Blumenthal, because Miller [the far-right terrorist] on a handful of occasions praised Blumenthal’s against-the-grain reporting on the right wing in Israel.”
The SPLC’s characterization of Blumenthal’s work on Israel as “against-the-grain reporting on the right wing in Israel” was a deplorable attempt to whitewash a book that demonizes the Jewish state as the Nazi Germany of our time. The SPLC also asserted that “Blumenthal … is of Jewish descent and has spent years off and on in Israel” and “does not ‘despise’ Israel” but merely authored “a number of articles that criticize Israeli policies.”
What the SPLC studiously ignored when it presented Blumenthal’s work as perfectly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies was that just a few months earlier the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2013 list of the “Top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” had featured Blumenthal in the category “The Power of the Poison Pen.” Then there was Eric Alterman’s widely-noted characterization of Blumenthal’s book as an “‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook” that “could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed) without a single word change once it’s translated into Arabic.”
It should also not have escaped the SPLC’s attention that in the fall of 2013, The Forward published an article that provided not only a sharply critical take on Goliath, but also highlighted some shocking views that Blumenthal expressed during his book tour: at one event, Blumenthal cynically discussed the urgent moral imperative to eliminate Israel and advocated a “Juden raus” policy for Israeli Jews who might refuse to “become indigenized” by submitting to Arab-Muslim political, cultural, and social dominance.
Moreover, given the SPLC’s monitoring of far-right hate-sites, one might have hoped that the praise for Blumenthal that could be found on many of these sites would have raised some concern that Blumenthal’s “against-the-grain reporting on the right wing in Israel” was so enthusiastically embraced by far-right bigots in the US.
Already in 2010, when Blumenthal began to focus on Israel, his efforts to demonize the Jewish state and its Jewish population attracted heartfelt praise on Stormfront: “Max Blumenthal has done a great service for all of humanity here, and we WNS [i.e. white nationalists], and the rest of the world, ought to be grateful to him.” On another occasion a Stormfront member shared one of Blumenthal’s video clips with the comment “Max Blumenthal is great (so not all jews are a**holes).”
After the publication of Goliath in 2013, Blumenthal got some well-deserved endorsements on David Duke’s website: “Blumenthal’s recent book and much of his other work have been extremely valuable.” The far-right site also objected to Blumenthal’s listing by the Simon Wiesenthal “Hate Center,” asserting that he and others were “placed on the Zionist blacklist simply for publicly recognizing some of the obvious truths.”
Since these are just a few examples of many, one cannot dismiss the widespread praise for Blumenthal on far-right antisemitic sites as mistaken enthusiasm focused on occasional articles or video clips that were picked up for the wrong reasons and put to unintended use. If a writer is praised by David Duke because his “recent book and much of his other work have been extremely valuable” and praise is heaped on this writer’s work on quite a few similar sites, it’s time to wonder whether the praise is perhaps well-deserved.
It is regrettable that the SPLC apparently preferred to overlook Blumenthal’s considerable popularity on the far-right. This oversight is all the more noteworthy given that only recently the SPLC emphasized that “Stormfront’s influence cannot be understated. For over a decade, a Stormfront account was virtually mandatory for members of the white supremacist community to network and organize.”
So if “Stormfront’s influence cannot be understated,” why ignore the fact that Stormfront members enthusiastically shared Max Blumenthal’s work on Israel and the forum’s founder praised him as a “Jewish peace advocate”?
The SPLC’s failure to note the popularity of Blumenthal’s demonization of Israel at Stormfront and similar sites is also relevant with regard to the hastily retracted Hatewatch post. The “explanation and apology” posted by SPLC specifically disavows “any intention to suggest” that Blumenthal and others mentioned in the retracted post might be “anti-Semites, [or] that they hold such views.”
In this context, it is instructive to consider the part of the retracted (but archived) post that deals with Sputnik, a media site that “has widely been described as a Russian propaganda outlet.” Max Blumenthal certainly won’t be able to deny that he has repeatedly collaborated with them to promote ideas that fit Sputnik’s agenda.
Blumenthal’s appearances on Sputnik include one segment from August 2017 entitled, “‘Evil’ Israel Won’t Endanger Defense Pact By Condemning Trump.” Blumenthal is introduced as “an award-winning Jewish author and journalist who has frequently criticized Israel and the US’s relationship with Israel. He gained notoriety in 2016 when he called Holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel ‘a supporter of [war crimes]’ who ‘should not be honored.’”
It’s hard to miss the antisemitic dog whistle when a media outlet advertises someone as an award-winning Jewish author who calls Israel evil and has denounced a famous Holocaust survivor as a dishonorable supporter of war crimes.
Another Sputnik appearance by Blumenthal last December prominently featured his claim that “the Trump transition team colluded with a foreign power to subvert America’s political system” — but while the mainstream media supposedly mislead their audiences to suspect Russian interference, Blumenthal unsurprisingly argued that focusing on “collusion” with Israel would be more justified.
So it looks like “evil” Israel and its machinations, as well as supposedly dishonorable Jews like Elie Wiesel, still loom large when Max Blumenthal appears on Russian government-controlled media.
It was initially not clear why the SPLC caved so quickly when faced with threats from Blumenthal’s lawyer — who, incidentally, seems to be “a former Sputnik editor” and apparently took on Blumenthal’s case pro bono, charging only a nominal fee of $20.
But in a recent program with the bizarre title “Watching the Hawks: Axis of Weasels with Max Blumenthal” on RT (a Russian government-funded propaganda channel), Blumenthal claimed that he has “actually done work for the Southern Poverty Law Center over the years” and “consulted with them on investigations going up to 2017.” Blumenthal added that he therefore knows the SPLC director and all it took for him to get the piece removed was a phone call.
If it is indeed true that Blumenthal just had to call up the SPLC director to have the piece retracted, it’s rather bizarre that he also used a lawyer to threaten legal action. And obviously, it is disturbing to contemplate the claim that Blumenthal worked for the SPLC, since it would mean that this civil rights advocacy group collaborated with an author who is celebrated by far-right Jew-haters for his relentless demonization of Israel.
As much as one should be dismayed by the SPLC’s failure to stand its ground when Blumenthal demanded the retraction of the Hatewatch post, the organization’s apparent disinterest in the extensive praise Blumenthal has long garnered on the far-right will be equally disheartening for anyone who takes the fight against antisemitism seriously. Stormfront founder Don Black may believe the SPLC targets his forum because it is “the preeminent pro-White and anti-Zionist organization in the world,” but the SPLC’s defense of Blumenthal in 2014 seems to indicate that the organization has no problem with the kind of “anti-Zionism” that is popular on Stormfront and similar sites.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli freelance writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Her blog, The Warped Mirror, has been published by The Jerusalem Post since late 2006, and her writings have appeared at The Guardian‘s Comment is Free, World Politics Review, The Commentator, and other sites.